Academia, Love Me Back

Academia, Love Me Back

My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced content that is of high caliber. 

I name these accomplishments because I understand the vitality of credentials in a society where people like me are not set up to succeed. My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth. These stereotypes and generalizations forced on marginalized communities are at times debilitating and painful. As a minority in my classrooms, I continuously hear my peers and professors use language that both covertly and overtly oppresses the communities I belong to. Therefore, I do not always feel safe when I attempt to advocate for my people in these spaces. In the journey to become a successful student, I swallow the “momentary” pain from these interactions and set my emotions aside so I can function productively as a student. 

Today is different. At eight o’clock this morning, I felt both disrespected and invalidated. For years I have spent ample time dissecting the internalized racism that causes me to doubt myself, my abilities, and my aspirations. As a student in an institution extremely populated with high-income white counterparts, I have felt the bitter taste of not belonging. It took until I used my cloud of doubt and my sociological training to realize that my insecurities are rooted in the systems I navigate every day. I am just as capable if not more so than those around me and my accomplishments are earned. 

This morning, my professor handed me back a paper (a literature review) in front of my entire class and exclaimed “this is not your language.” On the top of the page they wrote in blue ink: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.” The period was included. They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language, instead they immediately blamed me in front of peers. On the second page the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote in between the typed lines “This is not your word.” The word “not” was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this? 

In this interaction, my undergraduate career was both challenged and critiqued. It is worth repeating how my professor assumed I could not use the word “hence,” a simple transitory word that connected two relating statements. The professor assumed I could not produce quality research. The professor read a few pages that reflected my comprehension of complex sociological theories and terms and invalidated it all. Their blue pen was the catalyst that opened an ocean of self-doubt that I worked so hard to destroy. In front of my peers, I was criticized by a person who had the academic position I aimed to acquire. I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to “cut and paste.” I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them. 

Instead of working on my English paper that is due tomorrow, I felt it crucial to reflect on the pain that I am sick of swallowing. My work is a reflection of my growth in a society that sees me as the other. For too long I have others assume I am weak, unintelligent, and incapable of my own success. Another element of this invalidation is that as I sit here with teary eyes describing the distress I am too familiar with, the professor has probably forgotten all about it.  My heartache can not be universally understood and until it is, I have to continue to fight. At this moment, there are students who will never understand the desolation that follows an underlined “not.” There are students who will be assumed capable without the need to list their credentials in the beginning of a reflective piece. How many degrees do I need for someone to believe I am an academic?

At this moment, I am in the process of advocating for myself to prove the merit of my content to people who will never understand what it is like to be someone like me. Some of you won’t understand how every word that I use to describe this moment was diligently selected in a way that would properly reflect my intellect. I understand that no matter how hard I try or how well I write, these biases will continue to exist around me. I understand that my need to fight against these social norms is necessary. 

In reality, I am tired and I am exhausted. On one hand, this experience solidifies my desire to keep going and earn a PhD but on the other it is a confirmation of how I always knew others saw me. I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase “this is not your word,” I look down at a blue inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success. The grade on my paper was not a letter, but two words: “needs work.” And it’s true. I am going to graduate in May and enter a grad program that will probably not have many people who look like me. The entire field of academia is broken and erases the narratives of people like me. We all have work to do to fix the lack of diversity and understanding among marginalized communities. We all have work to do. 

Academia needs work.

3,650 thoughts on “Academia, Love Me Back

  1. Thank you for having the courage to share this experience with others. I wish I could say I was shocked but unfortunately your experience does not surprise me at all. I have had very similar experiences both in high school and as an undergraduate many years ago. You obviously did not let this get you down and you shouldn’t. Send my your CV when you finish your graduate course work. We can definitely use voices like yours in the classroom.

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  2. Wow! As a Suffolk Alum of the English program I’m shocked. Plagiarism is an offense that can put your academic standing in jeopardy and is therefore a matter that should be handled outside of the classroom space. I also take issue with the language used here. “Hence” is not sufficient evidence to point to plagiarism. Maybe you and I don’t walk around saying “hence” or “whereby” on the daily, but those words are perfectly at home in your average college essay. When I was in school, professors pushed me to make clear, logical statements of fact backed up by evidence that clearly supported a well-defined thesis. It seems clear that your professor did not think to apply this same reasoning when evaluating your writing or they would have approached this whole situation completely differently.

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  3. Thank you for sharing! We often times question ourselves but to have others question us is truly difficult. It takes our self doubt to another level. It is constant battle to progress in meaningful ways. We want to achieve and be recognized equally. That is out of our hands. We can achieve what we achieve but how others perceive it is a different subject. I tell my children that the what they say matters and they must be thoughtful of how they say what they are thinking. As adults in positions as this professor you speak of that thoughtfulness can be forgotten. Let us remind them that we are all a leaned people. Our words are our words and the words of others. It’s called wisdom and intelligence. We learn from now and past. I am Latina and I read Shakespeare and am fascinated with royalty and not the real housewives of…..
    Be yourself Tiffany. You are strong and gifted. Don’t forget that.

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  4. Im very curious as to what happened to the professer in question. Did you report it to the school? I think it is important to challenge incidents like this and I consider it a racist action. If there is any question, the school can investigate and if there is a pattern of behavior, that prof should be gone.

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    1. Since she never actually denied that she plagiarized and apparently has not posted the entire essay on line, doesn’t that tell you that in fact she did? Can’t handle criticism? Suffolk(sorry no offense) is not exactly the fast lane—how would your paper been received across the road at MIT or Harvard? Doesn’t the first word of your essay contain a grammatical error? Put your essay on line to back up your contention or as they say, put up or shut up!!!

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      1. If you are going to troll, at least make it entertaining or factual. Absence of denial is not admission of guilt. Why on Earth would you assume plagiarism? I certainly didn’t spot the error you point out, and I’m not even sure how a word can ‘contain’ a grammatical error. You seem like a pretty bitter man.

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  5. Same thing happened to me when I was 10 years of age and a few years beyond that. The only difference here is that I am white with blue eyes and created a good first impression. Being poor like many other kids in a public school, on numerous occasions I received a score of 100% for English (our secondary language) and for Bible studies. Somehow the teachers never believed I could reach full marks for these subjects and always implied that I was cheating. Notwithstanding that my marks for math was exceptionally poor and most of the time failing. If I was ever going to cheat, surely math would have been the subject to do that in. After one too many occasions of being humiliated in class to be a “cheater” I started to write in wrong answers to questions I knew the correct answers to be, in fear of being called a cheater and being shamed. And by doing that I confirmed their accusations.

    I have never forgotten that and taught me a very good lesson. When people talk bad or imply bad things about a person, I always look at the person doing the implying and try to determine where this stems from. Most of the time I concluded that it was jealousy.
    As a child I had an aptitude for languages, writing and a great quest for knowledge. (Just not for math!) This was a time and an era when kids were taught to be seen but not heard. There was not much encouragement to pursue passions or interests.
    Of course, now as an adult I often wonder why an adult would be jealous of a poor white kid or any kid for that matter?
    And so I grew up determined to march to my own drum. And so I did. I refused to be influenced by anybody’s negative opinion or bad advice. I lived my life and made decisions, some good some not so good, but marching on I did.

    Tiffany – please do not fret another moment over a silly sentence on your paper. Whoever wrote that is irrelevant to you or your life. And by allowing that to affect you in any way, gives more power to them.

    YOU are in charge of your own destiny. Keep your eye on the ball and continue to strive to be THE BEST YOU CAN BE! I don’t know you but I am proud of you. Continue to prove them wrong!

    On my 21st birthday my mother gave me a beautiful card with the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling. I have kept it and framed it as a daily reminder. Here is the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling. I trust this will be as inspirational to you as it was for me. Good luck!

    IF – by Rudyard Kipling

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;

    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;

    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,

    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;

    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

    ***I wish you well – all the best – Tanya

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  6. Sorry to hear this happened to you. Sounds to me like your professor is a little shy on real-world experience, otherwise she might have learned not to judge by the outside. I hope you continue with your studies, and remember this experience when you are teaching others.

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  7. Hello Tiffany, when I read the articles that were trending about your paper I thought that it was crazy for a professor to insinuate and call plagiarism with absolutely no evidence. And one week later, I find myself going through the same thing with a professor! I’m was so upset I had to blog about it because my administration has failed me. Peace and light doll.

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  9. Tiffany,

    I am so inspired by your ambition, brilliance, and tenacity. Thank you for writing this piece and for taking the time and energy to express, so eloquently, the impact this interaction has had on you. I posted your piece to my facebook page and a recent PhD graduate friend of mine commented “It’s too bad such a brilliant student met a not-so-brilliant professor.” I couldn’t agree more.

    I hope the support you’ve received from writing this piece has reminded you of all the beautiful things you have to offer the world; how you are so deserving of all your incredible success. I look forward to following your work over the years.

    Keep fighting and succeeding!

    All the best to you,
    Alissa

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  10. I am sorry that you had such an experience. Please know that there are many tens of thousands of professors out there who are overjoyed to have first-generation students from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Our goals are to help you and others grow and develop your writing and analysis throughout the rest of your education, not to erect barriers in your path..

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  11. As a Puerto Rican from the Bronx (and as someone finishing a PhD), I want to express my solidarity with your struggle. Getting a PhD is a very long marathon and you will deal with obstacles like this during your journey. I’ve been told by at different points throughout my life that I would not achieve anything, let alone attend college. I even had a college counselor in my high school advise me to make origami out of my college applications. Use your feeling and focus that energy into achieving your goals. Carry those bricks with you … and when you successfully defend your dissertation years from now, then you can let go of all of those bricks in triumph.

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  12. A century later, things remain unchanged: people still tend to pigeonhole other people who are unlike. On the whole, this question takes on a particular significance especially nowadays when almost everybody tweets about tolerance. It seems the academic world has shown its worth side. Instead of helping young enthusiast to bring changes into the advancement of science, they do the opposite, crushing the last bits of self-respect.
    The most important here is to avoid keeping silence. Tiffany, it is good that you have written the article, because the truth is on your side! We at Unplag wish to support you and give you a free check to scan your paper and prove your guiltlessness. Our team knows how difficult the life of an academic can be, therefore we do respect those who do researches and writes. It will be unfair, if your work is subjected to unjustified criticism. It would be nice to help you, Tiffany! Do not hesitate to email me at victoria@unplag.com

    Warmly,

    Victoria

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  13. I applaud the author for not once calling the professor a racist. However, she does imply so by statements about “people who look like me”. The problem then is that his actions were then broadened to academia at large in the last sentence.

    Racism is not only an ugly thing that destroys self-esteem, it is also a personal attribute. If all but one of the staff at that college are racist, it is still impossible to label the institution itself in that way. For that matter, it would be the same if it was all of the staff.

    I experience something often by members of disadvantaged or minority communities. Because I am a white male, I am part of those who are assumed to be racists. I am a person, whether my skin is white, brown, black, etc. I am a person, whether I live in a community of “rich white people” or in the inner city. I am a person, whether I am a college student, policeman, actor, or rap artist. We’re all people, regardless of our skin, status, or profession. Just as you may feel judged by others, I feel that judgement as well.

    It’s easy to make a point that my road in life is easier because I am white. In some ways, you would be right. However, my opinions and actions are frequently marginalized by members of minority communities. It’s been said that since I don’t look like them, I can’t understand what it’s like to be them, and therefore my thoughts don’t matter.

    I, too, have had a professor make marks on my paper that said that he didn’t feel the language was my own. The thing is, he was white and so was I. I have to assume that he didn’t think I would use the words I did because he didn’t think I was that refined in my writing or thoughts. Why would he think this? I don’t know. I do know, however, that it is unlikely to be racism in my case.

    The biggest problem with labeling someone as a racist is that racism is a quality of the mind. None of us have the ability to crawl inside someone’s head or heart to know what they are really thinking. Even the lesser-form of racism, unconscious bias, is an impossible thing to prove.

    We all need to stop using our race as a measure of our self-worth. Our worth is only truly linked to what we can and do bring to this world. So some communities have more advantage than others? Of course! I would say that this will always be the case until we stop looking at ourselves as communities of race or privilege rankings. We need to stop referring to ourselves as the white community, black community, Hispanic community, etc. Doing so inevitably leads to an us-vs-them situation. We are a community of human beings.

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    1. Nicely said. These trite and largely irrelevant labels lead to gross errors in analyzing issues and situations. In Ms Martinez’s case it short circuits any more concrete discussion of what actually transpired and leaves both Ms Martinez and her professor victims of damaging and unfounded attibutions. The rush to judgment by many is sad. It seems nobody remembers Henry Fonda and his role as Juror #8 in Twelve Angry Men. Of course, it is also possible that the professor in this case behaved in anentirely unjustified manner. But I, for one, remain unclear as to exactly what happened.

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  14. I am a swiss high school teacher working on a school with a special project to encourage migrant kids for higher education and read that story on Facebook. Hence them, Tiffany, the power is with you!

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  15. Dear Tiffany, Your experience ripped my heart open all over again. Fifty-five years ago I was the “dumb Portagee” in Rhode Island whose presence in my school’s accelerated program was considered, obviously, a terrible mistake. I finished my Ph.D. in spite of them and so will you! But it is heartbreaking to see that these senseless biases still exist. You should be very proud of your accomplishments. And I thank you for bearing witness to these continued injustices.

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  16. Tiffany, I specifically registered my WordPress account, just to support you. I know just how you feel as I had a similar horrifying experience more than 10 years ago. I’m neither academic nor Social Science major. None the less, I have been perceived to be a social science student for many years.

    In my first humanity course at the University, as unbelievable as it may sounds, my professor has been promoting the ideology of white girls are superior than girls of other ethnic groups. I’m astonished of the professor’s exhibition of self-indulgence and moral superiority in class. My professor exclaimed she felt my essay was not my own work. At that time, I was so shocked that my Professor could denounce one individual just because my work’s doesn’t fit into her stereotype. I couldn’t know if the stereotype has anything to do with these racist comments she made in class. Back then, I didn’t know plagiarism actually means exceptional work. I thought I have been accused of plagiarism because I criticized my professor ‘s racist comment in class. I was so wrong. After my essay was had in, my professor ask me if I’m interested in Social science, I told her I’m interested just to please her. After that I have been accused of Plagiarism all along. I never figured these issues would be related. This has created an enormous amount of problem later on.

    Plagiarism is probably one of the most misused word in Social Science. The word plagiarism means appropriation of someone else’s work. However, plagiarism has nothing to do with appropriation at school. Plagiarism has to do with the subjective judgement of Professor. I always thought Plagiarism was used because professor believe minority as incapable. I was very wrong. Plagiarism is a powerful word used to denounce and embarrasses top minority student without the need of any evidence. A quality essay has been accused of Plagiarism will be graded with an extremely low mark. This will lower student’s GPA to discourage them from pursuing further in Social Science Career.

    I used to believe Plagiarism and Quality work is a paradox. Minority student needs to establish conflict management skill to find the fine line in order to deliver quality work to meet Professor’s expectation without crossing the line of Plagiarism. I have raised this issue of contradiction to another Social Science professor. Professor addressed to my concern by encouraging all minority students to deliver ordinary quality essay rather than high quality and promise to award fair marks to minority student out of sympathy of incapableness. Ironically, the reality is I have been continually accused of Plagiarism regardless of work quality. Some of my white peers in class to read my paper. None of them were able to understand how I could be accused of Plagiarism. The Professor refused to comment on why and nobody durst to speak out due the unfair grading system of the course. I evidenced the alliance and abuse of power among social science professors. I learned the brutal truth of how social science professor has abundant power to manipulate student’s marks due to the non transparent grading system.

    Absolute power always leads to corruption, manipulation and abuses. During the period I fight against social norms and advocate for justice, I have been continually challenged, criticized, framed by various students, professors and employees of the University. I’m stunned by the professor’s power of fabrication and manipulation. I ‘m astonished to know that cheating records at the University can be removed permanently if student are willing to be manipulated by the professor. For years, student of my ethnic group whom get caught cheating at school has been offered this option if they are willing to spread rumors to frame me. I have evidenced student get caught cheating was set free after task completed. University’s policy of fighting plagiarism and defending academic integrity is just an excuse to eliminate student. By all means, Professor doesn’t even care about academic integrity themselves.

    I learned later in my life that “White girls are superior ” was actually part of the course curriculum from school. It was set to help white girls to improve self-esteem as minority girls were presumed not take the course. However, the other purpose was set to discourage minority girl to pursue the Career in Social Science. I learned justice means different things to different people. What I considered as xenophobia and racist are actually considered as the normal state of things for them. My Professor was completely stunned when I tell her I never enrolled in Social Science. I have been perceived to be a social science student because of the essay I had in. All these manipulations and abuses was because of Professor knows the essay was my work all along. Other girls major in Social Science suffered more than I do.

    Tiffany, my heart goes to you and every minority girl work in the field of Social Science. The minority communities are all counting on you. We need your voice. I wish you achieve your very best in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carrie, you call yourself a journalism and communications professor yet you cannot even accurately quote the allegedly offensive phrase. Really?

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  17. I’ve never been to university, plus I’m a middle aged white male. After reading your post I wonder if “academia” at your school is even worthy of that title? Because they’re basing an assumption set around characteristics which have no place in the halls of higher learning, I believe the “academics” at your school require, to use the vulgar, a punch in the dick.
    Accusations without proof and based on geographical and racial assignments are terribly trite, remarkably prejudiced, and indicative of the need to replace a broken system. Anything that stifles learning and exploration is not education, and those privileged individuals that are in charge and allowing this to go forward are morally bankrupt and without the ethical imperative to lead the young on the journey into the future.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. making a recommendation to change a word does not mean he is a racist….simple. maybe he is picky…it would be like your boss telling to take a poster down from your desk…it is annoying…but it doesn’t prove he e is a racist!

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      1. Cl, you are right. There is no proof that the professor was racist but then again there is no accusation that she/he is racist.

        All TM has said is she was accused of not using her own words without any justification given and which she believes to be without foundation.
        She sees in this a pattern of experiences that she hears as a cacophony of voices that question hers, and her ethnic peers, capabilities as U.S. Students of tertiary education.

        She makes no judgement as to whether the prof is a card carrying member of the KKK or a bastion of liberal thinking. S/he could be either and anything in between. S/he could be a member of any or all minority groupings. It matters not.

        It is the institution of Academia that is racist. Whether we like it or not everyone who plays their part in delivering Academia play their part in its racism. I understand this is challenging. It means that the solution to this is not a simple case of rooting out die hard racists and bigoted ignoramuses.

        It means that the biggest challenge is getting those of us who own and operate the bulk of the worlds resources and social systems to share the power. Perhaps then, devoid of the ability to oppress others, we will see an end to suspicion and fear of the other.
        Maybe. But in the meantime we can listen to the experiences of others and reflect with humility and the benefit of the eyes of others on those things we all do that contribute to the pain of others.
        And for those who read in this a counsell of despair please just ignore me. You’ll be of no use to anyone if you give up hope in the face of this challenge. But if you can live with you own indoctrination into the ways we are divided without reaching for a razor blade you may well find a new thirst for life as you take on the great challenge before us all.

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      2. Ms. Martinez made quite a few assumptions herself. She accuses the professor of being biased because she is Latina. Is it possible the professor has a bias against poor writing? There is a big difference between being hard-edged when it comes to reviewing and critiquing written work, and being biased and bigoted.
        I saw another post that showed more small screenshots of her paper. The other sections had instructor’s comments that were valid (lack of citations and poor sentence structure, for example). If Ms. Martinez is certain of her writing abilities, she should post the entire paper, either with or without the comments, so others can determine if her skills are as stellar as she apparently believes. I have had people tell me how great their abilities are, and sometimes they are right, however, sometimes the work is not up to the standards and I will say so.
        Undergraduate work is a chance to learn and grow. Ms. Martinez should use the opportunity to reflect on her written work and to make improvements instead of becoming defensive and offended when told her work is less than perfect. Try to figure out why the comments are made based on written standards, instead of being determined the only reason for anyone to criticize her is there has to be a bias against her.

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  18. Tell your professor that an accusation of plagiarism represents a serious charge against your personal and academic integrity; hence, you see it analogous to a criminal charge, and consider yourself innocent until proven guilty, with the burden of proving that you have “cut and pasted” anything you have written falling on him. Have someone in class record his response for internet posterity.

    Liked by 2 people

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